Six candidates in three races sparred over issues such as land-use planning, the Luna education bills and social issues during the Idaho Mountain Express’ nonpartisan Pizza and Politics election forum Wednesday night.
Two candidates for county commissioner, two for District 26 representative Seat A and two for District 26 representative Seat B were peppered with questions from the audience and press—questions that helped potential voters discern the differences between the candidates’ positions on important issues.
County commissioner candidate Mickey Garcia and incumbent Angenie McCleary disagreed on everything from skilled-nursing care in Blaine County to commissioner salaries.
Garcia, a nine-time political candidate, has been vocal in past elections about his disdain for county land-use planning, and was similarly critical during the Wednesday forum.
“The planners have taken over,” he said in response to a question from former Commissioner Len Harlig regarding the Blaine County comprehensive plan. “You read these documents full of plans and they put you to sleep.”
Garcia said planners think they have a crystal ball about where development would work best; however, he said, ordinances such as the Mountain Overlay District are more harmful than helpful.
“The government says you can’t build anything on a hillside,” he said. “They take the guy’s private property, they reduce the value of his property and they don’t even lower his property tax. I don’t like to see that happening.”
But McCleary called land planning “very important” to maintaining Blaine County’s quality of life.
“When I spoke about the beautiful natural surroundings and quality of life, that is embedded in the comprehensive plan,” she said, adding that she might work to make the document simpler to read.
Both candidates said they support the local-option tax for air service, a tax that if approved by voters would be collected by Ketchum, Hailey and Sun Valley to expand and retain air service to the valley.
“It’s critical to the economy of our county,” Garcia said. “That means more jobs for young people. I see all the people getting gray here, and we have to start thinking about the economy for the future.”
McCleary was less whole-hearted in her support, saying air service is crucial to the economy—but a tax to fund it might pose problems.
“I’m very pleased that businesses are supporting it, and that makes me a stronger supporter,” she said.
Garcia later attacked McCleary for her vote in August to raise county commissioner salaries to more than $61,000 per year from $55,000.
“Your county commissioners are not worth $60,000 a year,” Garcia told attendees. “They’re ripping you off.”
McCleary said she voted for the increase because even though the county is still in a difficult economic time, having fair compensation for all county employees and officials is important.
“These positions should be open to anyone who wants to run for them, regardless of economic status,” she said.
Garcia said that if elected, he would cut commissioner salaries to $30,000 a year.
“If you’re dumb enough to vote for people who keep ripping you off, I can’t help you,” he said.
House Seat A
There were also clear divisions between the candidates for District 26 Seat A, the seat being vacated by retiring state Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum.
Democratic candidate John Remington answered questions side by side with Republican candidate Steve Miller, both of whom strove to tell attendees that they would be fairly represented.
“One of my No. 1 things is to treat everyone equally and fairly,” Remington said.
He said his experience working as a private school athletic administrator in a public school-dominated athletic district has helped him understand the needs of the people in Gooding, Camas and Lincoln counties.
“I was able to develop positive relationships with all kinds of people,” he said. “At the end of my career, I had a number of people come up to me and say they respected me.”
Miller said that if elected, he would follow Jaquet’s model for representation—listen to everyone and take copious notes.
“One of the things I appreciated about Wendy was if I invited her to a meeting, she would come with a little yellow notepad,” he said. “She’d write down the issues and almost invariably, you would hear from her. If I’m fortunate enough to win, you will see me with a little yellow notepad.”
Miller said he could not give his position on HJR2, a proposed amendment adding the rights to hunt, fish and trap to the Idaho Constitution, on budget cuts to state departments such as Health and Welfare or on what legislation he would most like to introduce and see passed in his first term.
Remington said that if elected, he would not support further budget cuts to Health and Welfare.
“Two sessions ago they made such a great cut that it impacted a lot of people with mental health problems,” he said. “It’s just unacceptable in this day and age.”
Remington said he would also like to work with Republicans to eliminate the need to register with the party to vote in the Republican primary, as that’s the No. 1 thing he has heard about in his travels around the district.
The candidates also made clear their positions on social issues, including abortion and gay marriage. Miller said he believes marriage is between “one man and one woman,” and that he believes that life begins at conception and should be respected.
Remington said he believed the government should not be involved in a woman’s right to choose, and that he was disappointed when the Legislature would not hear a bill that would have made it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation.
“They should have at least allowed people to speak,” he said.
House Seat B
Democratic incumbent Donna Pence and Republican candidate Lee Barron were the last to face off. Though they said they agreed that communication between representatives and communities is important, they said they disagreed on most other issues.
Barron represented himself as a strict Constitutionalist, and said that the “radical left” had “taken control of the Democratic Party.” He also argued that when it comes to most issues, county and city governments should be able to take care of themselves.
“I believe in the individual and in local government,” he said in response to a question about how he would represent the diverse interests of the district. “The people of Blaine County can handle their business and the people of Gooding can handle theirs. It’s up to you folks to take care of your own problems.”
Pence, a Gooding native, said that if elected, she would continue to keep abreast of issues such as airport relocation and tourism so she would be better able to represent Blaine County.
“Basically, I do my homework, I find out what needs to be happening and what the issues are,” she said.
Both candidates said there are a few good aspects to the Luna education laws, which are up under a referendum this election. Pence said she thought the technology aspect of the bills—giving laptops to high school students and paying for them with savings on teacher salaries—was good, but implemented the wrong way.
“Technology is great, but [it] can’t replace a teacher,” she said. “It’s a tool the teacher uses.”
Barron said he liked the idea of giving more power to local school districts and limiting the power of teachers unions, and would support leaving the bills in place.
“It might be a ham-handed way, but we need to get started on changing our educational system,” he said.
Barron later asked Pence how she would vote on the Affordable Care Act, a federal health-care plan implemented by President Barack Obama that was upheld by the Supreme Court earlier this year. Pence said that as a state legislator, she could not vote either for or against the plan, but that she believes the state must work hard to implement it.
“We don’t vote for the health-care plan, that’s national,” she said. “We just have to deal with whatever comes down from it.”
Barron closed by saying that if elected, he would take a stand against the federal government—which, he said, forced wolves on Idaho, is running livestock off public land because of the sage grouse and is ignoring the bark beetle epidemic in the state’s national forests.
“Someone has to say stop, and that’s what I intend to do,” he said.
Kate Wutz: email@example.com